INTERNATIONAL RESEARCH FOUNDATION FOR OPEN LEARNING







The art of the possible: issues of learner 
support in open and distance learning in 
low income countries 














Report for the Commonwealth of Learning

March 2005


The art of the possible: issues of leaner support in open and distance learning in low income countries






















This report was prepared by the International Research Foundation for Open Learning
(IRFOL) for the Commonwealth of Learning (COL).


IRFOL is an independent, specialised, research agency, concerned with research to guide the
development of policy for open and distance learning. www.irfol.ac.uk


COL is an intergovernmental organisation created by Commonwealth Heads of
Government to encourage the development and sharing of open learning and distance
education knowledge, resources and technologies. www.col.org



IRFOL
The Michael Young Centre
Purbeck Road
Cambridge
UK CB2 2PG
Tel +44 1223 401020
Fax +44 1223 401026
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The art of the possible: issues of leaner support in open and distance learning in low income countries

 
 
 
 
 

The art of the possible: 
 issues of learner support in open and 
distance learning in low income countries 






Authors:

Charlotte Creed, Terry Allsop, Roger Mills, Ros Morpeth


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The art of the possible: issues of leaner support in open and distance learning in low income countries
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The art of the possible: issues of leaner support in open and distance learning in low income countries
Contents
Page

Acknowledgements
7

The issue
9

Focus 9

Context 10

Western models 10
Culture and ownership
11
Learner support in low resource environments
13

Support within materials

13
Language support strategies 13
Study skills support strategies 15
Gendered nature of study 16
The instructional voice 17

Support provided by tutors and fellow learners

18
Strengthening community-based delivery 19
Accessing tutors outside the community 21
Shorter life programmes 21
Integration with established systems 22

Implications and conclusions

24

Appendices

Appendix 1

25
Key questions

Appendix 2

27
Examples of learner support structures in selected programmes in low income
countries
Primary school equivalence 27
Secondary school equivalence 30
Capacity building for NGO’s 33

References 35



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The art of the possible: issues of leaner support in open and distance learning in low income countries
Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank Helen Lentell and Jennifer O’Rourke for the ideas which
came out of their workshop on Tutoring large numbers in open and distance learning which was
presented at the 10th Cambridge International Conference on Open and Distance Learning
2003. These ideas inspired the authors to explore the issues and strategies in more depth.
Anne Gaskell in her role as editor of Open Learning was very helpful in directing us to new
thinking in learner support and has helped us formulate our ideas.

The authors benefited greatly from discussion with Dr Sushmita Mitra, Director
academic/student services at the National Institute of Open Schooling in Delhi. Dr Mitra
was able to read and comment on the drafts during her research residency at IRFOL from
7th – 18th March 2005 which was sponsored through IRFOL’s affiliation to COL. Dr Mitra’s
advice is to be aware of the practical implications for staff working on the ground. For
example, sophisticated models of learner support may be impossible to administer and
monitor in real life.
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The art of the possible: issues of learner support in open and distance
learning in low income countries



In order for distance education to fulfil an appropriate role in the third world, its underlying assumptions must
be critiqued, and rather than reproduce the structures of the developed world, distance educators must seek to
generate appropriate and sensitive models and practices, derived from forms of research which are reflective,
participatory and emancipatory in intent and procedure and are situated in the cultural contexts of the third
world.
Guy 1989: 58

The issue

Although the quotation above uses language which sounds rather dated fifteen years on,
questioning the assumption that distance learning practices established in one context can
translate into new ones remains valid. As is well documented, there are many approaches to
providing a learner support system in open and distance education. The ways in which this
support is provided will vary considerably depending on a wide range of factors. This paper
reflects on the existing approaches to learner support, with a particular focus on lower
income countries, and gives examples of how such support is provided in a wide range of
circumstances. It does not try to identify ideal models but rather provides a range of
principles on which learner support systems may be based and gives some examples of how
these systems have been developed in a number of institutions.

Focus

This report focuses on one aspect of learner support in open and distance learning (ODL)
namely tutoring, defined here as the support provided to assist students directly with their
learning from teaching materials. We include in our definition of tutoring, support for the
development of study skills as we regard this as integral to the role of the tutor and only truly
effective when integrated with the specific subject being studied. We have excluded from our
consideration the areas of student support relating to administration and counselling.

However as our thinking developed it became clearer that in many parts of the world, where
transport, telecommunications and the numbers of qualified people available to teach at a
relatively local level are seriously constrained, many students are left to rely on their text
materials alone. Our thinking then has developed to encompass the importance of ‘tutorial
support’ from within the learning materials whether these are print, web-based, or through
the use of audio/video tapes and broadcasts.

We have taken as our primary focus a very real distance education (DE) situation in low
income countries – a DE learner with print learning materials who may or may not also have
occasional tutorial support and support from other learners – and we have asked in what
ways that basic unit can be strengthened to maximum effect.

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The art of the possible: issues of leaner support in open and distance learning in low income countries
Context

Western models

In much of the western distance education literature the role of the tutor as a key player in
supporting student learning is emphasised (Tait 1989; Simpson 2000; Mills 2002). It is
considered particularly important in the context of continuous formative assessment,
predicated on the assumptions that (i) the tutor ‘gets to know’ the student and (ii) the tutor
deals on an individual basis with students’ learning, being thoroughly familiar with the
strengths and weaknesses of the student’s study skills.

This knowledge of the student can only be attained if there is regular academic contact in
some form or another, such as by comments on the student’s work, by telephone
conversations, by e-mail or through individual or relatively small group interactive face-to-
face sessions. Transmitting this knowledge from tutor to tutor, as in the case of a
programme of study leading to a qualification, is a costly and controversial business. Even a
relatively wealthy institution such as the Open University in the UK (OUUK) has been
unable to maintain such sophisticated coherence in its teaching systems.

As ODL is increasingly regarded as a viable policy option for countries with limited
educational resources and large numbers of potential students, it is timely to reflect on the
implications for such systems of the problematics, both educational and economic, relating
to the provision of tutorial support. Even if all the evidence pointed to the need for creating
small groups of students subject to regular student/tutor interaction, there is little point in
advocating such approaches where the local situation is such that this could never be
achieved either because of financial constraints or because of a totally different cultural
context.

The OUUK has been successful at least in part because it was established in a country with
good postal, telephone and road/rail systems, had the backing of major political party which
was in government, was able to develop a partnership with the national broadcasting
corporation, the BBC, and met a large, mainly reasonably well-educated, yet frustrated,
demand for degree level education. The circumstances pertaining in the United Kingdom
were very different from those in many other contexts. But even in countries which are ideal
for the establishment of comprehensive tutorial systems, e.g. those with quite high
population densities, good transport and communication systems and a ready supply of good
quality tutors who are keen and willing to be trained, there are still issues about the balance
between resources spent on materials production and on tutoring/learner support.

Sometimes the rhetoric of the importance of the tutor/tutorial support is not matched by
institutional decision-making where materials production and ownership can clearly be seen
as a tangible output and an asset for the institution, whereas tutorial support is regarded as a
cost. Attitudes are changing slowly and recently studies have demonstrated the resource
effectiveness of good student support in situations where institutions receive government
funding based on retention rates as well as enrolment numbers (Simpson 2003). Of course
where there is no government funding the cost structure of distance education has in the
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The art of the possible: issues of leaner support in open and distance learning in low income countries
past been such that more ‘profit’ is made when students pay the full costs of a programme of
study ‘up-front’ and then drop-out.

However, in countries where there are major resource problems, where communications are
difficult, where potential students are spread over large geographical areas and where there
are few available tutors, the simple adoption of tried and tested models from industrialised
countries can at best be unhelpful and at worst positively dangerous. We have to reject at the
start certain given wisdom. For example, Rumble (1997: 108) states that ‘as a general
guideline, 25 students per tutor is suggested for study centres which are easily accessible to
students.’ This is unlikely to be attainable in most countries in the world

Culture and ownership

In a review of a recent book ‘Distance and open learning: challenges to developing countries’, by P.R.
Ramanujam of the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) in India, Nhavoto
(2005) provides an insight into a core issue when considering the ways in which systems of
distance education have been developed. Ramanujam points out that developing countries
are confronted with huge educational needs but have scarce resources for addressing this
task. They are faced with having to develop strategies for dealing with issues but without the
necessary experience or infrastructure. He points out that this has meant that developing
countries, instead of creating their own models of open and distance education have been
heavily dependent on models from developed countries. He argues that those countries
which simply adopted western models have found a poor match between their specific needs
and the imported models. Although acknowledging the role played by, for example, the
OUUK as a source of inspiration to many developing countries, he points out that in
adopting this model, universities like IGNOU and the Allama Iqbal Open University
(AIOU) in Pakistan have neglected local needs, learner characteristics, academic traditions,
access to technology and learning styles of their potential distance students. He claims that
those countries which chose to create their own models or adapt models from developed
countries were better able to respond to local needs and that the staff involved gained a
significant degree of self confidence.

A different slant is that problems in learner support in low-income countries stem from
unrealistic expectations in the promise of DE on the part of their governments. Certainly it
is the case that distance education has held, and continues to hold, a particular attraction to
developing countries and their donors. Highly centralised correspondence DE models hold
out the compelling quick-fix promise that they can solve big educational problems of quality,
quantity, access and cost at the same time as achieving economies of scale. But in practice,
centralised models have tended to impact negatively on learner support in three distinct ways:

First, one problem associated with these centralised top-down approaches is that although
they tend to be used to overcome infrastructural deficiencies in mainstream educational
provision, they bring with them their own infrastructural and organisational demands which
are frequently underestimated. The literature provides widespread evidence of programmes
that have been developed centrally but ahead of their capacity to support learners at local
levels, particularly in remote and deprived areas. As a result, as many evaluations
acknowledge, large numbers of distance education learners on programmes are studying
while working, with little local face-to-face support or supervision. Other local level
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The art of the possible: issues of leaner support in open and distance learning in low income countries
difficulties are evident: delays in delivering study materials; difficulties in recruiting
appropriate local tutors; low participation in tutorial sessions because getting to centres
requires long journeys. Since distance education is typically used to reach long underserved
areas, learners in these areas are likely to be the least able to cope with lack of support. Exact
figures for drop-out, non-completion and unsuccessful pass rates are often not available but
many programmes acknowledge that low rates are directly related to poor support systems.
An external review of the New Primary Teachers' Orientation Course in Pakistan, for
example, suggested poor management at regional level was responsible for a 69% drop-out
rate. The Indonesian D-II Air programme admits to very low graduation rates among
trainees in remote areas. The NCE Programme of the National Teachers' Institute in
Nigeria attribute the 27-39% drop-out rates partly to under-resourced and overstretched
study centres, difficulties in recruiting and retaining local tutors and poor tutoring within the
study centres.

Second, in these sort of industrialised models quality is often seen to reside, ready-made, in the
standardised package of self-study print materials rather than in their local-level mediation;
the materials are often regarded as self-standing, teacher-proof and with the potential for a
long shelf-life. As mentioned previously, materials can be viewed as a tangible output,
tutorial support as a cost. From these perspectives, a tutorial support system can end up
being seen as an additional rather than as an integral part of ODL delivery. This would
account for misjudgements about the importance of student-tutor contact and the wider
capacity-building demands of distance education. Where resources are tight, additional parts
of a delivery system are easily jettisoned or skimped on.

A third problem affecting the quality of a student support system is that since DE has often
been regarded as either a stop-gap measure or a specialised educational approach, it has
tended to operate as a parallel system to the mainstream educational structures. As a result,
rather than using existing pools of mainstream expertise and infrastructure, many
programmes are instead preoccupied with setting up their own structures in curriculum
development, materials production and outreach infrastructures and it is easy to see how
sometimes the quality of tutorial systems issues can get overshadowed. Additionally, the
structural complexity of distance education can make for fragility in student support systems.
To make distance education work you need structures and facilities for seven main
functions: governance, planning, management and funding; materials development and
production; materials reproduction and distribution; student recruitment, advice and
support; assessment and evaluation of learners; feedback systems for formative evaluations;
record systems. In many cases, it will not be possible for one institution to carry out all the
functions and they have to be shared between several partners. An open university, for
example, may be contracted by a ministry of education for the development and central
management of a programme but this is likely also to involve coordination or collaboration
with a national accrediting agency, with curriculum bodies, with local level partners for
student support. Partnerships have strengths but they tend to function with varying degrees
of success. Consistency of quality is difficult to achieve in large-scale programmes with
decentralised field operations, which also need to be responsive to local conditions.

Whatever the underlying causes are for poor learner support, the centralising tendencies of
distance education need to be balanced with more regular two-way, field-based interaction
between students and tutors if it is to be more effective. One persuasive response to these
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The art of the possible: issues of leaner support in open and distance learning in low income countries
problems is for distance education to centralise and industrialise those parts of a DE
programme for which it is appropriate and so devote more time and resources to creating
more opportunities for interaction and reflection.

Learner support in low resource environments

There follows a review of a range of potential approaches to providing learner support in
low income country contexts where the basic unit is a learner with self study learning
resources and with occasional access to other learners and tutorial support. We examine
these approaches under two types of tutorial support: support within materials and support
provided by tutors and fellow learners. We have used tables in Appendix 1 which capture the
key questions and option choices relating to tutorial support, in order to ground thinking
about what may be possible in low resource environments.

Support within materials


Where distance learners are highly, perhaps totally, dependent on self-study learning
materials the support strategies within them become critically important. In third world
contexts distance learners often bring to the learning experience additional language and
study skills needs. Many are from a predominantly multilingual oral tradition often with a
limited reading culture and where access to libraries or reading materials may be restricted.
Many have had to use a European language, with varying degrees of competence, as a
medium of instruction. Against this background, the typical prose-intensive style of print
distance learning (DL) materials makes heavy demands on adult learners who are returning
to study, are often unpractised readers and writers (in both their mother tongue and official
language of education) and new to writing assignments in a range of academic literacy text
types specific to the subject area under study (such as report, argument, description).

In these contexts distance materials carry a special burden of responsibility, one that is
frequently sidestepped, underestimated or inadequately addressed.

Language support strategies

DE producers have traditionally used one or some of the following four language support
strategies: writing 'simple' text (usually with the help of readability indices or writer’s
guidelines); assessing tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) for understanding rather than
language (i.e. overlooking language deficiencies by checking only the learner's overall
understanding); adding language-focused elements such as glossaries to the print materials
(high-tech tools include on-line dictionaries, thesaurus, spellcheckers and translation); general
English language development courses run in parallel with or before the course content.

One general problem with all these strategies is that they do not take into account the
diversity of language and literacy practices across different subject areas and as a
consequence do not contribute towards developing learners' abilities to cope with the
different demands that are made upon language within different programmes. The
approaches stem from the traditional tendency to separate content and language teaching
and reveal the extent to which educators underestimate how learning and the language of
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The art of the possible: issues of leaner support in open and distance learning in low income countries
learning are crucially interrelated; that if more attention were devoted to ways of improving
language development, through contextualised use, learning in all areas would be greatly
assisted.

The strategy of producing 'simple text' has a particularly long tradition in ODL precisely
because its preoccupations with widening access, equalising participation and redressing
educational disadvantage. Typical techniques include shortening the overall sentence length
by splitting complex sentences into independent sentences, making sentences simple in
content (e.g. with one idea in each sentence) and using short, concrete, familiar words while
limiting polysyllabic and abstract words. Guidelines to DE writers often include advice to
avoid long words and sentences, to use positive and active words rather than negatives and
passives. Readability indices (such as the Fogg index) have also been widely used to indicate
to writers of learning materials where some sentences are overly complicated. Used
judiciously, these techniques can be useful but an overly formulaic approach to writing
carries risks.

One problem is that there are language factors which operate at a broader textual and
rhetorical level which are crucial to the understanding of any text. Sentences are not in
themselves wholly meaningful; they assume meaning within a broader context (within and
across text and between the reader, writer and text). Measures at the level of a sentence will
not reveal these difficulties. As a result of structural 'simplification', text can lose its cohesion
and become merely a collection of sentences which is both semi-cohesive and semi-coherent:

We use language to communicate. If we use it more simply, we can communicate better. So
simplifying language means improving it. Most often, English is simplified to improve technical
communication to non-native English speakers. Simplified English is not only easier to read, but also
it is much easier to translate.


Savage (nd) Simple English is better: guide to writing for non-native speakers, London: Foundation for
teaching aids at low cost

This type of writing reveals an underlying product-oriented view of education where the aim
is to 'deposit' information by means of short, succinct shafts of information. It is a
persuasive approach if the objective is to get across important information quickly of the do-
this, don't-do-this type, such as simple health advice on hygiene and breast-feeding. If the
objective is to facilitate a reader's comprehension from text, let alone use it as a model for
writing, then a constant diet of this simplified text acts against the best interests of the
learner. It assumes an inability (often on the part of highly articulate multilingual learners) to
learn the complexities of a language and, at the same time, circumscribes the ability of
learners to use the language and participate within the particular academic community
because it produces language which is atypical of a particular subject area. Despite the best
of intentions, then, 'simple text' can inadvertently contribute to learning, literacy
development and reading problems.
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Study skills support strategies

There has been a traditional tendency for academics to assume that there are universals of
academic behaviour. Holmberg (1989: 33) in discussing study skills for distance learners,
made a similar point, 'it is far from easy to lay down universally applicable principles for the
teaching of learning strategies and study skills generally. I am afraid we must be more
modest'. In addition to the usual generic study skills guidance (time management, note-taking
skills) often found in DE programmes, there is also the need to find pedagogical strategies
which recognise that becoming a part of an academic discipline is not so much a question of
assimilating an immutable canon of knowledge but more an apprenticeship into the social
practices of a particular community, not only of learning from, but learning to write and speak
appropriately; that subject areas are communities of practice and 'impose requirements of
recognised participation' (Lankshear 1997: 42). Unpractised writers need structured help to
learn how to write in a particular genre and use language appropriately. Course producers
tend to assume that their apprentice economists, teachers or managers will 'pick up' the
language, modes of analysis and writing expectations of their discipline from three indirect
sources – the simple process of writing TMAs, TMA feedback and the actual course
materials. In practice, each of these can be a source of difficulty. TMA feedback is often
limited and focused on content rather than the writing implications of content. DE course
materials can be so heavily formatted in the traditional DE instructional design that they do
not, in themselves, provide a text-rich environment. Their value as a potential source of
textual varieties to the learners has become limited.

In order to more fully address language and literacy issues, the pedagogical approach needs
to focus on raising the learners' awareness of the characteristic conventions and literacy
practices appropriate to a given academic community. This implies strategies that are
embedded in the materials rather than the usual separate study skills course or guides. Examples
include:

direct, point-of-need support, (including TMA wrap around materials about the
structure and language implications of particular essay types; more detailed TMA
feedback on content and discipline-specific study skills matters; awareness-raising
textual devices which draw attention to specific linguistic/rhetorical
characteristics, e.g. margin boxes or specific in-course activities)

indirect support in the form of a text- and graphic-rich instructional design which
could help learners, on the basis of the examples set before them, to gain more
awareness of writing conventions and which reflect a wide range of standardised
English in different media (spoken, print, visual)

The last point directly challenges well-established convention in DE instructional design.
Within this tradition, DE instructional design follows a reassuringly familiar format
throughout the learning materials (e.g. each unit made of statement of objectives, summaries,
headings, main text and activities). In many cases, however, this format can have the effect
of imposing a textual and stylistic straitjacket onto the materials in which textual variety
becomes a casualty and which therefore limits the potential of the learning materials as a
pedagogical resource and model. One pedagogical implication is that a DE writer can also
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The art of the possible: issues of leaner support in open and distance learning in low income countries
contribute to the language and study skills development of their second language learners by
providing them with a print environment rich in a wide range of text types (report,
argument), genres (a scientific article, a newspaper column), registers (degrees of formality
and informality) and graphics from which the student writers can learn.
Another implication is that DE writers could work from the notion of a continuum as a
basic pedagogical principle which moves from the known/familiar toward the less
known/unfamiliar and assists learners to make connections between their discourses, their
particular backgrounds and textual histories and the discourses found in the subject area.

I think you can help the students make that transition … without saying lets put it
in Noddy and Big Ears language
Zimbabwean DE tutor

For example, to move from the familiar cultural and often orally transmitted practices of
everyday social practices towards the less familiar written discourse of specific disciplines
and to make explicit the difference in literacy practices; to use informal contexts and
language as a bridge into the more formal decontextualised language in an academic domain
(Northedge 2003, 1995). This is a new take on the 'friendly tutor in print' who engages the
student in an 'avuncular chat' (Jeffcoate, 1981: 76) and instead suggests the deliberate co-
existence of different registers and discourses to point up their difference. One key strategy
would be to play on the status of oracy as a key to literacy by increasing the use of speaking
(on cassettes and in tutorials) as a bridge into writing and reading.
DE producers in general need to move away from the assumption of monolingualism and
cultivate, where feasible, an ethos of multilingualism within and around a course destined for
use among speakers of other languages. Strategies could include, for example, accompanying
audio tapes in the mother tongue which provide an informal overview to each unit; the
inclusion of group activities (where participants naturally tend to revert to mother tongue or
multilingual exchange) alongside the more individualised activities within the materials.

Gendered nature of study

Studying at the same time as working is demanding for all learners, men and women alike.
However, the presence of women on a DE programme, their status within it and the time
they can devote to it are often all matters of continual negotiation. Their roles tend to be
socially constructed in relation to their capacity as caretakers of their partners' and children's
needs, as well as being income generators. These domestic and professional pressures tend
to impact on how, when and where they study; that is to say, within gendered learning contexts.
First, study periods are often snatched, wherever feasible, in sporadic, short bursts which can
often be threatened by distractions, tiredness or lack of family support. Secondly, in contrast
to the idealised notion of women distance learners studying at the kitchen table, the pressure
around home-study can often result in their deliberately choosing to study away from the
home.

The implication is that course developers need to pay heed to the (typically unrecognised)
gendered nature of study and could address those differences if they worked with the
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The art of the possible: issues of leaner support in open and distance learning in low income countries
constraints faced by their women students as their frame of reference for the design
principles of a print-centred learning environment. The argument here is that the strategies
that flow from this would not disadvantage men whereas working from study conditions
more characteristic of male students - such as the potential for more extended study time
and concentration - does disadvantage women.

Women-friendly strategies might include the following:

• thinking closely about the time demands of reading and writing tasks and
chunking them (say in half to one hour tasks) particularly at the start of a course
for women returnees rather than working from the assumption of extended
study
• providing more cohesion to short, sporadic study periods by means of more
comprehensive cognitive hooks (overviews, summaries, the use of diagrams or
audio cassettes to provide an overview of a unit/concept, information-transfer
tasks such as chart fillings from readings)
• exploiting the audio + print combination in a variety of ways (listen to readings,
commenting on readings)
• thinking through ergonomic issues of print-based design which takes into
account women’s need to work away from home and often with differential
access to private transport (heavy, bulky printed course components could be
reduced by a greater emphasis on their transportability for peripatetic and
commuting workers, e.g. detachable pages, use of audio-cassettes for Walkmans
or in-car use, cutting down on prose by greater use of graphics)

Ergonomic issues need careful planning because rather than assume learners have access to
libraries, networked computers or face-to-face tutors, instructional designers need to ensure
that the materials themselves are self-standing and provide the learner with all the learning
resources.

The instructional voice

Where learners are very dependent on the materials, course designers need to seek
pedagogical ways to address the fact that the students' learning backgrounds may predispose
them towards a passive relationship with print materials and an overvaluing of the authority
of print. One strategy would be to make the socially-constructed nature of knowledge more
transparent to the learners in order to encourage a more distanced, critical appraisal of the
content.

At the level of 'textual strategies' (Graddol 1993), this suggests a deliberate disruption of
some of the traditional facets of mainstream DE instructional design. One example would be
the overt signalling of differences between authors. This implies moving away from the
traditional DE instructional design in which the team of writers are often disguised and
mediated through a constructed 'personal' voice with the text (our avuncular tutor-in-print).
The danger here is that the personalised voice may have the effect of shifting the reader's
attention to the voice rather than to the text and give the impression of a course as a
seamless and authorless entity rather than a collection of disparate texts from different
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The art of the possible: issues of leaner support in open and distance learning in low income countries
authors. Graddol (1993: 26), for example, notes this tendency in DE towards closed texts
(Eco 1981) which 'speak with a single voice; to control stage by stage the state of knowledge
of the learner' and which presume to predetermine the reader’s response. To create open
texts with his OU courses, he drew on Bakhtin's notion of social heteroglossia or dialogism,
which is an attempt to relativise a unitary truth or canon of knowledge by reflecting the
multiple social languages (heteroglossia) of different generations, professions, epochs and
their different ideological-belief systems. One adopted strategy is to deliberately disrupt the
high factual status, teaching voice in typical DE texts by inviting course team members and
external authors to take up a variety of voices in informal and informal registers. Examples
include authors directing students away from their teaching voice 'to an article (by
themselves) written in a more formal academic register … at which claims can be safely
disputed' (Graddol 1993: 28); to distance themselves from their own assertions; to talk
informally, on cassettes, about the background to their work and orientation of their
thinking.

Another example would be to physically highlight the resource-based rather than course-
based nature of learning. One version of this might be a main course book with
accompanying resource books, another version would be to offer courses based almost
entirely on resource books (containing, for example, a mix of classical and topical articles
about the subject under study) accompanied by a pedagogical wrap-around; in other words,
relocating the navigational voice away from the academic resources. In this case, the
navigational voice needs to take responsibility for providing cohesion to the range of
educational resources.

Support provided by tutors and fellow learners

Having looked at providing tutorial support within the materials themselves, we now turn to
the context of large groups of distance learners with access to a restricted tutorial system in
low resource operations, particularly in cases where the potential student population is much
dispersed. What approaches offer lessons for good practice in low income country contexts?
In reviewing the evidence, we have augmented the paucity of literature in the area with a
variety of case studies (see appendix 2), drawing on both ODL and face-to-face
programmes, to examine ways in which they have addressed the situation of large numbers
of learners, outside the mainstream educational infrastructure, supported by inexperienced or
under qualified teachers/tutors in under resourced study centres/classrooms, often in rural
areas.

Our starting point is a workshop presented at the Cambridge Conference on Open and Distance
Learning in 2003
(and in a subsequent paper), in which Lentell and O’Rourke (2003) asked a
group of distance educators to reflect on a number of scenarios involving ODL with large
student numbers, and to propose strategies for tutorial support.

These strategies included:

a) decentralising the organisation, planning and execution of learner support - making it
as local as possible and calling upon local resources for tutors/mentors from
teachers and other professionals, e.g. health-care workers;
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b) supporting learner groups by providing materials specifically for group work in
addition to the teaching materials;
c) developing self assessment tools that groups of learners could use;
d) linking learning to the work place and involving employers.

These suggestions for strategies certainly mesh with our subsequent findings from the case
studies. Our findings fall into four distinct approaches, all of which move away from a one-
size-fits-all approach toward a far more judicious, strategic planning towards learner support:

1. Strengthening community-based delivery

A key emerging approach is to design and focus resources around the very specific demands
and realities of a poorly resourced rural learning situation – of groups of learners with
occasional tutorial meetings with inexperienced, under qualified (and often underpaid) tutors.
The options here are to either strengthen or to circumvent that basic unit in a variety of
ways.

Promoting group learning
One way of strengthening community-based delivery is to exploit the existence of groups of
learners in near proximity to each other and promote opportunities for group learning.
Lentell and O’Rourke argue that learning in many Western educational institutions is
personally orientated, with a strong emphasis on the development of the individual, whereas,
in many non-western societies communal and collective learning is more of the norm. Their
paper gives a number of examples and provides extensive references.

Decentralised and small-scale community-based models
These can take the form of either a large-scale operation decentralising the organisation,
planning and execution of learner support (as covered by Lentell and O'Rourke) at local
levels or the form of smaller-scale programmes which solely focus on and develop out of
one particular area Both tend to be informed by a participatory style of working where the aim
is to build community participation and ownership in the programme by mobilising and
strengthening community resources and practices. The course is generally developed after a
period of wide consultation among various stakeholders and delivered in a decentralised
strategy. This might include district-based management training, the establishment of strong
partnerships between community-based stakeholders and district-level education officials.
This is seen as the main mechanism for quality assurance and development at the local level.

Teacher education examples include the Northern Integrated Teacher Education Project (NITEP)
in Uganda; the Northern Areas Education Project (NAEP) in Pakistan; a Vietnamese programme
focused on five remote provinces; the Hinterland Teacher Training Project (Guyana) and two
richer-country examples in rural areas, the Remote Area Teacher Training Programme (RATEP)
and Koorie Teacher Education Programme (Australia); TELETECHNET programme (USA). The
evidence shows these are not without their own difficulties: in recruiting local personnel,
poor communications and transport in remote areas, poverty and literacy difficulties of
trainees. Nevertheless, their concentrated effort in one or more particular rural areas allows
them to identify and then address the specific needs by sustained capacity-building over a
period of time. With varying degrees of success, most have tried to develop a strong culture
of care surrounding their trainees and put a lot of effort into local level organisation and
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training. This also seems to have paid off well in terms of retention of trainees: NITEP has
a 12% drop out rate (10 of 12 were AIDS victims). RATEP shows an 85% success rate and
TELETECHNET a 95% successful completion rate.

The A-Plus Programme in Brazil is a variation on this community-based approach. For some
distance education providers, their task ends at the point of delivery. For others, like the A-
Plus
programme, delivery is the starting point for further activities. The distance-education
component ― educational TV broadcasts ― are produced centrally and broadcast nationally
on cable TV. Nevertheless, effective use of them is dependent on a locally-based, Community
Mobilisation Network
. 60 Community Officers mobilise meetings and activities with trainee
teachers/teachers in schools which opt for the 'plus' part of the programmes. This helps
local education practitioners identify new content areas and exploit existing programme
themes in ways that appropriate to their community needs.

The highly-structured package approach
Where there is a particular need to address quality issues in under-resourced rural areas, a
more structured approach may well be appropriate. One way of supporting and
strengthening the basic unit of students and an inexperienced tutor, is a whole-study centre
package approach, which includes the provision of highly-structured, self-study resources
with active learning approaches that support both the learners and the tutors. The structured
and interactive self-study materials can be written in a way that they involve the tutors as
partners in the teaching process by, for example, asking them to indicate and lead ready-
made group activities and provide answers to self assessment questions. In other words, the
materials position the tutor as a facilitator more than a teacher of content. The
tutor/facilitator can also help with preparation of exam techniques, continuous summative
and formative assessment and adopt the role of friend, taking a proactive approach to
learner support in a range of ways, such as following up non-attendance at tutorial sessions,
advising when studying becomes difficult because of personal issues. The tutors, who are
usually inexperienced and under qualified themselves, are supported by the well-structured
and planned curriculum which introduces them to new teaching practices designed to foster
active learning and provides a model for extending their own teaching repertoire. The
tutor/facilitators can also be used as a conduit for relaying questions about content and
subject matter to a subject expert at the HQ or regional level.

The dual purpose learning materials, then, are being used to provide support, respite and
training to the local level tutors. This embedded support for the tutors can also be
supplemented by additional tutor-only learning resources and meetings/workshops. This
might include very careful tutorial planning so that maximum use is made of the short time
tutors and learners spend together, e.g. providing ready-made activities around content areas
which have proved problematic in the past.

Another part of the package approach – and under the tutors’ responsibility – would be the
deliberate enrichment of learning resources at the study centre with reference books,
dictionaries and visual aids as well as ready-made, semi-structured resources to support and
extend the tutor's repertoire. These can provide the means of introducing new engaging
learning materials and methodologies quickly and can diversify the range of learning and
teaching resources open to the learners and tutor. They can also become part of the tutors
responsibility and toolkit.
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This package approach has been used to good effect in a range of rural, low-income
contexts, such as Escuela Nueva in Colombia, BRAC Open Schools in Bangladesh, Interactive
Radio
instruction in Zambia, Telesecundaria in Mexico. These are primary equivalent
programmes for out-of-school populations but the ways in which they have attempted to
strengthen their basic unit – the impoverished rural classroom with large numbers of learners
and under qualified teachers – holds out good practical lessons for the rural DE study
centre. The interactive radio approach, pioneered by USAID, has characteristically adopted a
whole-school or whole-programme approach to the learning contexts, which involves
learners, tutor/teachers and the community.

2. Accessing tutors outside the community

Where expert tutors are thin on the ground at a community level, various strategies have
been adopted to circumvent the problem and facilitate access to them:

Two-tiering
One strategy is the two-tiering of the tutorial system. In one example, as adopted by Andhra
Pradesh Open School Society, learners have ready access to a locally-appointed volunteer
teacher/counsellor during the week but three times a year they also go to tutorials with more
highly trained teachers in 'cluster' centres. Part of the volunteer tutors' roles is to anticipate
the needs of learners for these higher level tutorials. A variation of this, adopted by
BOCODOL, is where the more experienced tutors are brought to the learners on an
occasional basis via mobile units.

Interactive technologies and broadcasting
Another strategy is to bring experienced tutors to the learners by means of interactive
technologies which allow for interaction between trainee-tutor that would not be possible
otherwise. The use of interactive video technologies ― sometimes referred to as two-way or
interactive narrowcasting ― has been used extensively in the USA but is a recent
development, since mid-decade, particularly in teacher education in developing countries.
(Tele-SOPT, Tele-Maths for primary teachers, Indira Gandhi National Open University India,
UNESCO/ITU interactive television for teachers program, Morocco, OFEK in-service teacher training,
Open University of Israel). Studio-based teacher-educators make live one-way satellite
presentations ― aided by pre-recorded video-clips ― about different teaching areas to remote
groups of teachers in different local level sites. Direct questions to the educators are made
from the teachers via telephone and fax links. Video- and tele-conferencing have long been
used in a range of programmes in island states such as the Caribbean and the Pacific Islands
to increase opportunities for interaction between course participants and expert tutors.

3. Shorter life programmes

A third approach is the diversification of distance-education provision in terms of types of
programmes, duration and management of courses. For example, there is a noticeable
increase in the use of shorter, intensive distance-education courses as well as distance-
education resources, where learner support resources can be specifically designed around a
shorter delivery span and planned for more comprehensively or strategically than for an
extended two or three year programme. There is potential for a greater degree and
consistency of quality and a concentration of tutorial expertise over a shorter rather than a
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longer span of time. Examples include various teleconferencing programmes such as Israel's
OFEK programme which offers short courses for upgrading teachers in specific areas
(English, maths, remedial teaching); 4-day and 5-day in-service professional development
programmes (in several Korean institutions, Indira Gandhi National Open University's use
of interactive TV programmes, the SHOMA programme's use of satellite broadcasts and
multimedia computer applications for short-term, in-service training).

The shorter-life and often lower-volume features of such courses have several organisational
implications. While they may reduce the long-term organisational demands at decentralised
levels, they place a greater emphasis on a capacity to mobilise decentralised resources quickly
and for a wider range of subject areas. Considerations such as these ask us to rethink the
imperative of going-to-scale which has traditionally accompanied 2-3-year distance-education
courses. The efficiency and reach of the delivery system and the capacity to mobilise local
support systems become central to the effectiveness of shorter programmes.

4. Integration with established systems

Lentell and O'Rourke drew attention to learner support strategies that linked learning to the
work place and involving employers. Here we look at linking DE to the mainstream
educational system.

Earlier, we discussed how the development of DE in parallel to the mainstream educational
structures can have a negative affect on the quality of a student support system in low
income countries; rather than using existing pools of mainstream expertise and
infrastructure, DE programmes are often preoccupied with setting up their own structures
from scratch in curriculum development, materials production and outreach student support
infrastructures. Working with constrained budgets inevitably affects the quality of these
structures. However, there is evidence of different types of integration between distance
education and regular educational systems which, if used judiciously, have the potential
advantage of helping programme developers to capitalise on the strengths and minimize the
limitations of each.

We found evidence of four different types of integration between distance education and
regular education:

Allowing access to the mainstream
In some countries, government support for distance education takes the form of allowing
access to the mainstream educational infrastructure. In these examples, distance education
remains a separate activity to mainstream teacher training provision but can draw on its
resources, including high quality tutors, study centre administrators, regional support officers
and supervisors. Allama Iqbal University of Pakistan, for example, depends almost entirely
on district educational offices. A richer-country example --The Remote Area Teacher Education
Program (RATEP)
of north-east Australia -- depends on a wide range of established
educational and committee networks, including 22 institutions of higher education, three
kinds of community council, a provincial Open Learning Centre network, the Provinces
Department of Education and Office of Higher Education and the Commonwealth
Departments of Education Employment and Training.
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Parallel and equivalent
In some cases, distance education acts as in parallel to and as an equivalent to mainstream
provision. In Belize, for example, the three-year Certificate with School Experience programme is
delivered by the Belize Teacher Training College in two modes ― full-time residential or
part-time distance education. However, to avert doubts about parity of esteem, the two
programmes share a common course structure, academics, tutors, supervisors, accreditation,
and certification and attract the same salary incentives on qualification. This puts DE on
more of an equal footing with mainstream teacher training programmes and give access to
more expert student support than might otherwise be available although the number of
tutorials, the tutor-learner ratio and the degree to which a tutor understands teaching in a
distance mode support are all critical factors. The distance mode has also been carefully
rationalised to include a 4-6 week residential summer session in subject areas difficult to
teach at a distance, e.g. art, music, physical education, and instructional aids.

Supporting role
In others, distance education is more fully integrated with regular provision. In some, we can
see a reversal of roles with distance education playing a supporting role to regular provision. In
India, for example, the Distance Education Programme (DEP) of the District Primary Education
Programme (DPEP-II
) distance education has been absorbed into the regular educational
framework for the continuing professional development of a range of educators and this
recognised role has enabled it to benefit from existing district level structures such as the
District Education and Training Centres (DIETs), which had not until then embraced
distance education at all. DIETs now serve as the basis for supporting distance-education
trainees and the sharing of resources in facilities and expertise.

In a variety of contexts the establishment of a local level DE infrastructure has contributed
to community development by serving as a basis for the development of a wider programme
of education and training. Binns et al (2004) found that the local level learner support
infrastructures of DE programmes in Guyana, Nigeria and Uganda have all formed the basis
for further community educational activities and were able to identify a number of indirect
beneficiaries who included mainstream educators in schools, inspectors and local
administrators.

Mixed-mode
Mixed-mode delivery combines both residential college-based blocks of training with blocks
of independent distance-education study and, like the parallel example above, has the
advantage of drawing on existing resources within mainstream system such as college
lecturers doubling up as tutors and distance-education materials writers. One recent example
is the Malawian Integrated In-service Teacher Education Programme (MIITEP) which
consisted of 3 months in college, 20 months in school learning independently with distance-
education resources and one month back at the college for a course review and final
examinations.
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The art of the possible: issues of leaner support in open and distance learning in low income countries
Implications and conclusions

We have outlined two main approaches – support within materials and support provided by
tutors and other learners – and strategies within each which have been employed with some
success to address the particular demands of supporting learners in a range of low-income
contexts where quality tutorial support is thin on the ground. It has to be said, however, that
all of them, particularly the support provided by tutors -- imply a loss of flexibility within the
DE learning support system since they require very careful planning and strategic use of
those resources at particular times or in particular locations. Nevertheless, we should be
cautious about various ‘western’ notions of effectiveness and flexibility because whilst they
might provide a very ‘customer-centred’ service to students they are simply not possible to
organise in many contexts. Notions of 24/7 service, of being able to enrol on a programme
at any time, of self rather than institutional pacing can all be seen to be student-centred but
may not necessarily support the student as well as more structured and formal systems. Nor
might such approaches be regarded as important or essential in certain environments. For
example, the University of Namibia runs only a few programmes each year, enabling
resources to be focused on these, thus generating viable groups with sufficient numbers of
students.

On the other hand, we acknowledge that different sorts of flexibility may be critical in
different cultures. For example in basic education work in South Africa students demand the
opportunity to study with their friends and to chose the tutor they wish.

Even in the OUUK in the 1990’s much thought was given to reducing the numbers of ‘low
population’ courses or their frequency of presentation because it was very difficult to
provide highly personalised tutorial support in addition to correspondence teaching. So
strategies which involve less than annual presentation of courses, fixed start dates, rather
than ‘start when you like’, establishing clear cohorts with clear deadlines for assignments (to
aid progression and commitment) are more likely to succeed than some western notions of
customer services offering ‘all things to all people’.

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The art of the possible: issues of leaner support in open and distance learning in low income countries
Appendix 1

Key Questions

Framework 1: The top level questions

• Are the students studying at home, at work or in a community setting?
• What is the level of resource available?
• Do students pay for their programme?
• What is the density of student population?
• Are communications well or poorly developed?
• What level of education is involved?

Framework 2: The range of tutorial support options

1. No materials, just a syllabus and formal examinations
2. Materials (Ms) only
3. Ms plus large group set piece tuition (radio, face-to-face)
4. Ms plus ‘hot line’ (telephone, letter, e mail) for individuals to get answers to
problems
5. Ms plus self help ( with one member of group raising issues on behalf of group as in
4 above)
6. Ms plus cmc/face-to-face/telephone with smallish groups
7. Ms plus systematic assignments and feed back ( or feed forward*) on work done
8. Examinations and feedback on assignments

Framework 3: The types of tutoring


In-text
Friendly tutor in print
Learning to learn/study skills elements
Language support/development elements

Correspondence
Individual feedback (expensive)
Group feedback (cheaper)
Group feedback on exams and no assignments (cheaper still)
No feedback on anything (cheapest but of no possible help to students)

Telephone
Group, individual, tutor or student (individual or group) initiated (proactive or reactive)
Landline or mobile

CMC
Group/synchronous/asynchronous
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Individual reactive or proactive
Issues of tutor availability
Face-to-face
Individual or group
Size of group

Self-help
Techniques and support for self-help groups

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The art of the possible: issues of leaner support in open and distance learning in low income countries
Appendix 2

Examples of learner support in selected programmes in low income countries

In this appendix to the report, brief analyses are made of learner support structures in three
kinds of distance education programmes:

• primary school equivalence
• secondary school equivalence
• capacity building for NGOs

Primary school equivalence

The table presented below analyses four programmes which specifically target populations of
young people for whom the formal government-funded primary school is not an option. It is
worth noting that Escuela Nueva, in Colombia, might not be characterised as a distance
education approach, but it is included here because of its unusual and innovative approach
to the relationships between learners, learning materials and teachers

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Primary Equivalent Andhra Pradesh Open
Interactive Radio
Escuela Nueva, Colombia
National Institute of
Programmes
School Society, India
Instruction (IRI) Zambia
Open Schooling, India





F2F tuition
* 1 to 2 hours, 2 to 3 times
* Students, often AIDS
* Yes, the pupils are sited in
* Provides alternative

per week with ‘volunteer’,
orphans, attend classes as per small multigrade classrooms in primary schooling through
locally appointed
a normal primary school, but rural primary schools
self-instructional materials
teacher/counsellor
in community-provided
* They work with centrally
and networks of study
* Three times per year, 10
premises. They work with
produced, self-study materials
centres
days compulsory F2F
genuine volunteer teachers,
in four subjects – language,
* F2F tuition takes place in
instruction by trained teachers identified by the community. maths, science and social
study centres at weekends
in cluster centres, which are
The teachers are known as
science
and in school holidays
designated primary or
‘mentors’.
* Pupils work in groups of 4 to * Each subject packages
secondary schools
* Most tuition is F2F, though 6
comprises 100 study hours,

structured by radio
* Teachers are freed up to give 50 of which are self-study,
broadcasts received generally individual help and to support 50 of which are in study
with wind-up radios. The
pupil groups in learning
centres with F2F contact
broadcasts, currently in
English language only, are
very supportive of the
untrained teacher, with lively
activities for the pupils
* So far goes to Grade 5






F2F
Both volunteer and trained
Not applicable, as F2F
‘Normal’ primary school
Part of the tutorial
counselling/guidance teachers have a counselling
sessions are essentially
classes where the role of the
responsibility in study

role during F2F sessions
‘normal’ primary school
teacher is integral part
centres
above
classes






E-mail/on-line
No
No
No
No
tuition and/or
counselling
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The art of the possible: issues of leaner support in open and distance learning in low income countries






Assignments:
Assignments, based on
Assignments/homework
* Assessment based on
* Assessment based on
submission and
textbook material provided
structured into the radio
combination of self-, group
three tutor-marked
feedback
for all students, are marked
programmes. Presumably
and teacher-assessments
assignments per subject

and returned manually by the
treated as any other school
* Pupils assess their
* Continuous assessment
teachers
lesson
performance as individuals and through credit accumulation

as a group, then compare with
assessments of other members
of group and teacher





Planned peer group
Regular ‘classes’ meet, as
Pupils are in regular classes
Pupils are in classes structured Not formally
interactions
above
deliberately so they work

regularly in peer groups






Use of study centres
The designated cluster centres Not applicable
Not applicable, although a
* Study centres deal with

are not open-access learning
feature of E.N. is the
admissions, distribution of
centres except during the
considerable strengthening of
learning materials, F2F
three x 10 day compulsory
school libraries
tuition, examination
F2F sessions. They do not
preparation for learners
operate as ‘drop-in’ centres
* Regular use of study

centres structured into the
subject programmes, along
with ‘summer’ schools in
holiday periods

NIOS also offers upper
primary programmes for
students aged 12 upwards

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Notes on primary equivalent programmes

• Given the age-group involved in these four selected programmes, it is unsurprising
that the programme designers have acted to reproduce key elements of the primary
school experience, while recognising the potential of a distance education approach
to reach populations typically failing to access conventional primary schools. So, we
would expect there to be significant F2F interactions between learners and
teachers/tutors. Two of these examples (IRI Zambia and Escuela Nueva) operate in
recognisable classrooms, albeit with distinctive and interesting methodologies. The
two Indian cases of open schooling ensure that there are school-equivalent
opportunities for students to interact with their peers and their tutors, even though
the main instructional approach is self-study of print materials.

• Apart from the use of wind-up radios in IRI, the instructional materials used are
conventional in delivery mode, i.e. print dominated, but Escuela Nueva in particular
sets up very new and stimulating approaches to the use of instructional materials.

• Tutorial support ranges from modestly trained full-time rural teachers in Escuela
Nueva, through a mix of volunteer and professional teachers in the Indian models,
to volunteer community teachers in Zambia.

• Escuela Nueva has a particularly innovative approach to assessment.

Secondary school equivalence

Two of the three programmes highlighted in the table below – BOCODOL in Botswana and
NAMCOL in Namibia – clearly come from similar origins. They largely share methodologies
and cater for similar populations, namely, those young people who fail to find a seat in a
conventional secondary school. Telesecundaria is more a secondary school, but one whose
methodology and medium of instruction is significantly influenced by the use of intensive
television broadcasts.

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Secondary School BOCODOL NAMCOL
Telesecundaria
Programmes




F2F tuition
* F2F tuition is provided in 50 * F2F tuition is provided at
* Telesecundaria schools use

Community Study Centres
Study Centres, which have a
television programmes transmitted
and 18 learning satellites.
national distribution. Each
nationally on a daily basis in two
There is national coverage,
centre has a Head of Centre and shifts. Each hour of work has a
but there remains an issue of
a team of tutors. They provide
similar routine: 15 minutes of
support for learners in remote two sessions of F2F tuition per
television teaching followed by 45
locations in this very large
week for each subject being
minutes of teacher and book-led
country. There are plans for
studied.
activities. Follow-up is through use
the introduction of mobile
* For students who live in very
of reference books corresponding
centres.
remote locations, vacation
exactly to the programme content
workshops are offered as a
* Each student is exposed to a
substitute for weekly F2F
number of television teachers each
sessions.
day
* Each student in a year group has
one home teacher who supports the
student across all their subject
studies





F2F
Yes, as part of the Study
Yes, as part of the Study Centre The home teacher provides the
counselling/guidance Centre provision
provision
necessary counselling and guidance,

and is well placed to do so as a
result of their high contact hours
with each individual





E-mail/on-line
Being developed – expected
No, but NOL Net is
No
tuition and/or
to be operational by end-2006 increasingly available for student
counselling
access

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Assignments:

* A variety of assessment
Conventional approach to
submission and
techniques is used, including
assignments. Telesecundaria
feedback
continuous assessment
students take a separate national

* Each subject generates three
examination from conventional
assignments, which are set
school students, but they are graded
nationally and marked by Study according to common national
centre tutors
standards
* A booklet is available to all

students containing exam-
related information





Planned peer group
Not specifically planned
Yes, with the creation of self-
Through the normal organisation of
interactions
supervised study halls
the Telesecundaria secondary

school





Use of study centres
Each Community Study
See above
Not required as tuition takes place

Centre has a Coordinator and
in the rural secondary schools
a team of tutors. Whilst the

essence of BOCODOL
delivery remains the use of
print materials at a distance,
the strengthening of the study
centre network shows the
high level of demand for F2F
contact.

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Notes on secondary equivalent programmes

• While Telesecundaria in Mexico might be described as an alternative style of
secondary school, with a significant commitment to a style of instruction led by
television presentation, the two southern African examples are essentially operating
in distance learning mode. For both BOCODOL and NAMCOL, the core of the
learning is the relationship between the learner and print instructional materials. The
Study Centre model is offered as a distinctive model from the secondary classroom,
though day-to-day tuition practices may well still mirror the pedagogy of the school
classroom.

• As the level is secondary schooling equivalent, the largest part of tuition is carried
out by tutors or teachers who have either experience or training or both. Retired
secondary school teachers provide a popular source of tutors for study centres.

Capacity building for NGOs

The programme analysed below, Learning for Change (Fahamu), is a series of five courses
designed to assist Human Rights NGO’s in Southern Africa to strengthen their institutional
performance. Module titles include: Fundraising/ Using the internet for advocacy and
research/ Fact-finding and investigations. Materials are provided on CD-ROM with
accompanying print course guide. The rhythm of a sample course would look like this:

10 weeks of
4 day mid-course 6 week individual Feedback on
individual study
F2F workshop
project, based on assessed project,
using CD-ROM,
facilitated by tutors
student’s own
followed by
supported by e-mail
institution,
certificate award
tutors and e-mail
supported by e-mail
graded assignments
tutor

Capacity Building for NGO’s
Learning for Change, Fahamu


F2F tuition
Only at mid-course workshop



F2F counselling/guidance
Only at mid-course workshop



E-mail/on-line tuition and/or counselling
By e-mail throughout the course



Assignments: submission and feedback
Assignments, based on CD-ROM material,
submitted electronically, marked and
returned with comments by e-mail



Planned peer group interactions
Informally between students by e-mail
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Use of study centres
Not applicable


Notes on NGO capacity building programmes

• Workshops are deliberately held at mid-course, when all students have covered a
good deal of the same material and therefore have more skills to share.
• Drop-out is negligible, as students are recruited through their workplace and the
course is closely linked to their work commitments.
• Relatively small numbers per module – 20 to 25 – mean per student costs are quite
high, typically £700 per module, largely due to the great costs of SADC-wide F2F
workshops.

International Research Foundation for Open Learning
34


The art of the possible: issues of leaner support in open and distance learning in low income countries
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